The APA and its Anti-discrimination Policy March 6, 2009Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Philosophy Profession.
Tags: American Philosophical Association, anti-discrimination policy, gay rights, Philosophy
The APA (American Philosophical Association) is embroiled in controversy over its job postings. (See Brian Leiter’s Website for a blow-by-blow)
The APA’s anti-discrimination statute forbids discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Yet, it accepts ads from Christian colleges that require all employees to sign contracts in which they promise not to engage in various “un-Christian” behaviors, including having a gay partner.
These ads would seem to be a clear violation of the anti-discrimination policy. Approximately 1,200 APA members (myself included) have signed a petition requesting that the APA refuse to accept ads from colleges with such contracts.
As might be expected, some Christian philosophers object to this petition, arguing that Christian colleges are in full compliance with the APA’s anti-discrimination policy. Their argument is that these contracts permit hiring persons of any sexual orientation so long as they do not act on that orientation. Hence, there is no discrimination against persons or their sexual orientation, only a prohibition against particular actions. And they support this distinction by use of analogies, e.g., one could rightfully hire an alcoholic but forbid her drinking.
It never ceases to amaze me how highly-trained philosophers in the grip of a dogma can trot our such bad arguments. Human beings define themselves and are defined by others through their actions. And our dispositions, proclivities, and preferences acquire their full meaning and significance only they are directed toward action. It is a profoundly alienating experience when central features of one’s identity cannot be acted on. (I doubt that being an alcoholic quite qualifies). The reliance on this distinction between sexual orientation and action is just a smokescreen for abject bigotry.
There is another side of the issue that the APA must grapple with. Private, religious institutions have a right to teach their own traditions and define them as they see fit without government interference. The APA has always defended principles of academic freedom and religious liberty and rightfully so. But the APA is not a government entity. It is a private association, and many of its members do not want their offices to be used to promote bigotry. The petition does not seek to control what religious institutions teach or whom they hire. It seeks only to decline to run job ads that openly discriminate in violation of its statutes.